The original Star Wars: The Force Unleashed buzzed with potential, but poor production values and the madness of random remote waggling muted the glow. With Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II, the power of the Force has finally begun to manifest itself on the Nintendo Wii. Where the original struggled with combat momentum, The Force Unleashed II is smooth and satisfying; where the first game's visuals were jagged and jittery, the follow-up's are rich and varied. The gameplay is somewhat hobbled by a lack of enemy variety, among a few other flaws. However, not only is this version longer and more exciting than its high-definition counterparts, it moves along at a better pace and fills in an important story-related crevasse left gaping in the other versions. None of that matters if this is the only iteration of The Force Unleashed II you plan on picking up; what matters is that this is a good (and good-looking) action game that makes it a pleasure to slash up stormtroopers and fling them off walkways into the abyss beneath.
The story is not as impressive as that of the original, but it is notable nonetheless. On the watery planet of Kamino, Darth Vader hovers over a familiar figure. It looks to be Starkiller, the original game's leading man and Vader's unauthorized apprentice. But is it really Starkiller--the one said to have sacrificed himself for the Rebellion? Thus, you step into this man's shoes and begin your search for the truth, not to mention the search for Juno Eclipse, Starkiller's former pilot and lover. Excellent voice acting and facial animations give cutscenes emotional impact, and a sequence on the planet of Dagobah melds gameplay and storytelling in a wonderful and unexpected way. It's unfortunate that a lengthy central stretch that focuses on the combat needs of the Rebellion brings the narrative to a halt. In general, you spend less time getting to know Starkiller (or is it Starkiller?) and the supporting cast this time around, so the story arc isn't as fulfilling as it might have been. Yet while the sequel may not boast a story as substantial as The Force Unleashed's, it's both fitting and fulfilling.
The Force Unleashed II features numerous prerendered cutscenes (the same scenes used in other versions of the game), but it also includes scenes of its own rendered within the game engine, and these are much improved over the glitchy and low-resolution cinematics of the original. The cutscenes are not the most impressive aspect of the production, however: the art design deserves the greatest kudos. Including the sojourn to Dagobah, you traverse four main environments, which isn't as many as in the original, but your eclectic surroundings do a good job of providing visual variety. When you return to Kamino, for example, you start not on a rainy dais surrounded by the circular structures you would expect, but rather in natural corridors rich with red and gold hues. It would have been nice to explore a greater array of locations, but a talented team of artists clearly put a lot of work into making each of these areas distinct and diverse.
Unfortunately, you won't encounter a good variety of enemies during your adventure. Stormtroopers, mechanical spiders, and big robots with big shields make up the bulk of your battles. The good news is that the action is fun and sometimes even challenging, despite your ability to regenerate health by avoiding attacks for a short while. In the original, to swing your saber, you waved around the remote, which was both imprecise and unappealing. Now, you slash by tapping the A button, and motions are reserved for your most powerful moves. If you string together enough combos, you can slash the remote to perform a flashy saber attack. Thrusting the nunchuk forward Force-pushes enemies out of your way. Intuitive combinations of buttons and motions allow you to zap your foes with Force lightning, use Force grip to toss foes into the abyss beneath, and repel nearby ugnaughts with a shock wave. The camera, a major annoyance in the original, rarely gets in the way in the sequel, and responsive controls allow you to smoothly string moves together. An abundance of special effects and destructible environments further enhance the excitement of slicing and zapping jumptroopers--as does a move you earn later in the game that allows you to annihilate multiple enemies in slow motion.
Some noncombat activities mix up the pace, though these aren't wholly successful. The occasional puzzle sequences are easy but offer a pleasant breather in the midst of the action. The platforming, on the other hand, isn't consistently rewarding. A jumping puzzle in which you must pay attention to your mirror image is a clever detour. On the other hand, an early platforming sequence in which the camera constantly shifts positions mid-jump is infuriating. In one level, you must dash across a walkway, but if you enter the bridge in the middle of a jump, the floor will crumble away beneath you without warning, sentencing you to a painful death. There are a number of similar "gotcha" moments, so you may find yourself running into a deadly laser beam due to the game's failure to communicate. Happily, the creative boss fights help pick up the slack. A battle against an oversized metal arachnid is one such encounter; it requires you to use Force grip to rotate giant rings and, later, to manipulate a set of switches before you can damage it using your slow-motion rage. The fights are a good length but are never tedious, and they keep the tempo moving by changing camera angles, requiring you to influence the environment in various ways, and generally keeping you on the move.
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II also features local multiplayer ripped right from the Super Smash Bros. playbook. It isn't bad as unoriginal recipes go, letting each of four players select a character and leap around and duke it out in two dimensions. Each character possesses his or her own strengths and weaknesses, as you might expect. Darth Vader's saber slashes are powerful, but he's not very agile; Starkiller is a good all-rounder but not strong in one particular area; and Proxy can transform into any other character, but he's incredibly weak in his conventional form. In addition, you can perform a couple of different special moves, one of which is activated by flinging the nunchuk. Environmental hazards, such as the giant creature called the gorog waving his arms about, lend a touch of unpredictability to battle, though none of these hazards have the cleverness of Smash Bros.' best levels--nor are the animations and collision detection very tight. Attacks often appear to go right through your opponent without doing any damage, for example.
Multiplayer balancing and other issues aside, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II is a good step forward for a series that didn't shine in its previous outing. It's a shame the adventure doesn't last; while it's lengthier than the other versions, you will still finish in around six hours. Nevertheless, the snazzy swashbuckling can be electrifying, due in part to a responsive control scheme that utilizes motion in obvious but gratifying ways, making you feel like a mighty Jedi Knight. The clumsy moments prove that this franchise still has plenty of room to grow, but that shouldn't keep you from giving yourself over to the power of the Force.